Dear Friends and Patients:
2015 has flown by quickly! Our staff and I ATHANK YOU@ for all of your referrals of friends and family members this past year. Our heartfelt wishes go out to you and your families for a healthy and joyous holiday season. We hope that you have a stress-free holiday and are able to spend time with your loved ones. Many of you have told us you have been enjoying our quarterly newsletters which we also post on www.prevent-doc.com, and I appreciate your feedback. A lot of thought and research goes into getting the information contained in these newsletters and I am happy to share it with you.
This is the season we see an increase in colds and the flu. We all know these maladies are caused by various viruses. Many patients ask besides taking vitamin C and good hand-washing habits, is there anything we can we do to prevent these illnesses?
What is a Virus? Are Viruses Alive?
Simply put, a virus is a little bit of genetic material (either DNA or RNA) enclosed in a protein coat. What scientists have debated for years is whether or viruses are actually alive or not. Some scientists have long argued that viruses are non-living, but this is being questioned recently. Viruses do not have life functions that are associated with living organisms, such as the ability to metabolize, grow or reproduce on their own. What they do is invade a cell and hijack its genetic tools to replicate their own viral DNA or RNA. They may even partially mix with the host’s DNA during the process, and causing mutations. It has been estimated that about 8% of our genomes are viral and not human. Viruses lie around in our environment all of the time just waiting for a host to come along. In this “inert” form they are called a viron. Frozen viruses that are 30,000 years old that are still infectious have been discovered in the Siberian permafrost.
How a Virus Infects You
A viron is called a virus when it infects a living organism. A virus can enter a person through the nose, mouth or breaks in the skin. They can also be transmitted sexually or through blood in the case of hepatitis B or C, HIV or Ebola virus. Once inside, they find a host cell to infect. For example, cold and flu viruses will attack cells that line the respiratory or digestive tracts. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, attacks the T-cells of the immune system.
Regardless of the type of host cell, all viruses follow the same basic steps in what is known as the lytic cycle:
- A virus particle attaches to a host cell.
- The particle releases its genetic instructions into the host cell.
- The injected genetic material recruits the host cell’s enzymes.
- The enzymes make parts for more new virus particles.
- The new particles assemble the parts into new viruses.
- The new particles break free from the host cell.
The virus may or may not kill the host, depending upon the amount of destruction to the host’s cells. Some viruses may have no apparent harmful affect on humans or animals.
How Does Our Body Fight A Viral Infection?
When our bodies are invaded by a virus or bacteria, our immune system springs into action. A person’s immune system is designed to recognize the cells that make up our bodies (and not injure them) and attack any foreign invaders such as viruses. It does this by using a huge army of defender cells which consist of different types of white blood cells and also immunoproteins. This is a complex process.
White blood cells called macrophages destroy germs as soon as they detect them. However, if a viral infection begins to take hold we fight back using a more powerful defense with white blood cells called T and B lymphocytes. The B lymphocytes also produce antibodies that stop a virus from replicating by binding to it. These antibodies also act as a “marker on the virus” so that other white blood cells know to destroy them. T cells have different roles to play. Some T cells raise the alarm when they detect invading viruses; others kill virus-infected cells directly, or they also can help B cells to produce antibodies.
Once the virus has been cleared, a small number of B and T cells persist and retain an accurate memory of the destroyed virus. This means our immune systems are primed to prevent another infection from the same virus, without attacking the body’s own cells by accident. This is known as ‘acquired immunity’. Having a single infection with mumps during childhood will give you lifelong resistance, for example. Unfortunately, with cold and flu viruses, this acquired immunity may not work as these viruses are constantly mutating to the point your immune system cannot recognize them. With colds, there are many different types of cold viruses, so people who get recurrent colds may have immunity to some strains but not the ones they have never been exposed to. Some viruses, such as the chickenpox virus, become “inactive” before all the virus is destroyed by a person’s immune system. This virus can lie dormant for years until triggered by illness or stress and reactivate in the form of shingles.
Vaccines, which use dead or weaker strains of viruses to prime the immune system and stimulate long-term resistance without causing an actual infection, are used to prevent viral infections such as measles, mumps, influenza and others. Some vaccines are more effective than others. For instance, the shingles vaccine is only about 50% effective whereas polio and measles vaccines are much more effective.
Antiviral drugs are currently being tailored to treat HIV and hepatitis C. Someday we may have a broad spectrum antiviral antibiotic for the common cold.
What Can You Do To Boost Your Immune System?
Researchers are studying the effects of diet, exercise, stress (physical and psychological), age, and herbal supplements as well as other factors that may influence the immune system. Although the idea of boosting your immune system is enticing, the ability to do so has proved to be elusive. Because your immune system is precisely that – a system of multiple factors and not a single entity, it may be more accurate to look at reducing negative stressors on immune function rather than “boosting” immune function.
One thing a person can do is adopt healthy-living strategies such as not smoking, eating a proper diet high in fruits and vegetables and avoiding sugar, getting regular exercise and adequate sleep, and washing your hands. I suggest hand washing is done with regular rather than anti-bacterial soap to avoid antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria from developing.
Various nutrient deficiencies can impair immunity, including selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and zinc. Taking megadoses of these nutrients probably does not help.
Herbal supplements, in general, are looked at in a negative light by Western medicine except for garlic. Many patients take echinacea products. In my review of the literature there are a number of small, placebo-controlled double-blind studies that support its use and there are also some that do not. Lomatium is a species of plant that the native Americans have used for centuries to treat colds and lung infections, and appears to have benefit against both bacterial and viral infections. Although it is difficult to find human studies in the medical literature on this herb, it was used during the influenza pandemic in 1917 with positive results and our experience at the Center with lomatium dissectum liquid has also been positive. Lomatium species have inhibited both HIV virus replication in lab studies and also inhibited rotavirus. Traditional Chinese medicine uses numerous herbal/plant formulas to treat colds and flus, but again it is difficult to find any double-blind controlled studies regarding their efficacy in USA medical literature.
We know there is a relationship between the immune system and the gastrointestinal tract being balanced with “good bacteria,” so taking a good probiotic or eating organic cultured yogurt or similar products should be considered.
A final issue that is important in keeping a healthy immune system is stress reduction. Modern medicine used to treat the connection between emotions and physical health with skepticism, but has now come to appreciate the mind-body connection. So far this has not been a major area of research for immunologists. It has been my observation that many of my patients who have been under stress from situations such as the death of a loved one, divorce, unresolved issues with children, caring for an ill child or relative, or dealing with a serious medical problem themselves often have a decreased resistance to colds and flus. We know the adrenal glands produce more cortisol when a person is under stress, and this can blunt the immune system from making antibodies or fighting infection.
Patient Success Story – Persistent URI Resolved with Integrative Medical Therapy
Mrs. M is a very nice lady who went to visit her grandchildren and family out of state. When she arrived all members of the household were ill with upper respiratory infections. By the time her week’s visit was up, she also had symptoms of malaise, cough productive of yellow-green mucous, sore throat and head congestion. She went to a walk-in clinic where she was placed on antibiotics and antihistamines. Her symptoms didn’t improve on the antibiotics where her malaise and productive cough continued, so she contacted our office. The patient’s physical exam showed some congestion of her sinuses and also breath sounds compatible with bronchitis. A chest X-ray was ordered and was negative for pneumonia.
Mrs. M was started on LDM and V Clear. She was instructed to continue both supplements until well and then for two more days. She was also given the option of receiving high dose IV Vitamin C, which she received twice over the next week. By the second IV her symptoms were much improved. High doses of IV Vitamin C, unlike oral vitamin C, work as a pro-oxidant and cause the body’s white blood cells to produce hydrogen peroxide and this kills germs.